Cecilia Kennedy shows writing talent in many passages found in her novel Whatever Life You Wear. The way she captures the experience of being a tourist is exquisite. The blur of landmarks as you are rushed from site seeing spot to tourist trap by hurried guides, groups that don’t share your interest, and a time-crunch is played out with beautiful diction.
Her reverence for the power of words comes out at several points that appeal to my literary side, with phrases like “weaving words that take you out of your skin” and “watched the disregarded words fall on the sidewalk like litter” (Kennedy). You can tell at times that she is poet.
However, there are some missteps in the writing. Taking on such a huge cast of characters in her first novel may have been over-ambitious. The perspective hops from character to character. It’s not first person narrative but there are constant shifts regarding who is the focus of the story, who we have insights about. This would be tolerable if each of the characters had a unique voice, but I’m afraid they don’t. While each character has unique traits when described by others, they don’t feel distinct when we are in their heads. There’s a blandness to the way the perspective is set up, where we only get a small taste of the character’s thoughts. Sometimes there needed to be a stronger indication that the narrative was in a new location with different characters.
Despite the perspective issues it is clear the author knows teenagers well. The turmoil of trying to fit in but at the same time trying to establish your individuality is the essence of being a teenager. All of the characters in the story are experiencing this in some way. The way she writes about grief and alcoholism is approachable for young readers.